reflections on digital journaling of analog letters
One of the most interesting parts of teaching information communication technology classes despite not being formally trained in that field is picking up terms and concepts that I never learned as part of my degrees. One of the most interesting concepts I’ve picked up along the way is the formal distinction between digital and analog phenomena. I often use clocks or thermometers as examples of this in class: Analog phenomena can take on any number of values within certain bounds, whereas digital phenomena are limited to discrete values within those bounds. Thus, an analog clock technically displays every fraction of a second between two seconds, whereas even the most precise digital clock is going to limit its representation to particular fractions (and same goes with thermometers).
This has seemed relevant over the past couple of years as I’ve slowly but surely worked to digitize journals and letters from years ago. Despite a few quibbles and concerns, I really like the Day One journaling platform for iOS/macOS, so I’ve been typing old journal entries and letters into Day One entries to make them easier to search and to read. I’ve also been keeping the original journals and scanned PDFs of each letter, so the original formats of all of these documents are still on hand, but I’ve tried to make a Day One-friendly version of all of them, both to make them easy to access in the app and also so that I can eventually easily export everything in a big ol’ PDF document as a digital backup.
Where the analog vs. digital distinction comes into play here is slowly realizing how poorly a hand-written, “analog” letter translates into a digital Day One entry. Letters from my then-girlfriend (now wife) are full of all sorts of marginalia that raise semi-deep philosophical questions about how to reproduce them in a document that… doesn’t do marginalia. My sister’s letters include brief sketches that I have to either try to reproduce with emoji or screenshot and drop awkwardly into the Day One document.
In short, it’s clear that while there are some hard limits to how you can write an analog letter (say, the size of the paper), there’s a much broader range of expression than there is in a digital document—like a Day One entry or an email. This isn’t (necessarily) an argument about the superiority of analog media, but it is something that I’ll be thinking about a lot as this project continues—and probably for the years to come.
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